Testimony of Lisa Haver to the Board of Education, September 20, 2018

In the past week, APPS members have sent two letters to the members of the Board of Education urging a No vote on the Keystone Opportunity Zones.

There seems to be no reason to grant significant tax breaks to wealthy developers except political ones. This Board has promised to change the way things are done in the district. If the Board does vote to approve Action Item BOE-4, then at least one member of the Board should give a statement tonight outlining the reasons why. That reason has to explain how granting these tax exemptions to a handful of individuals would benefit the schoolchildren of Philadelphia.

As we said in out September 12 letter:

After reviewing the list of parcels on this KOZ list, Ms. Wilkerson prudently questioned how properties in the “rapidly developing” Frankford Avenue corridor, including Fishtown, would qualify for KOZs.  One question not asked is why properties at the Frankford Arsenal location could be included on this list.   APPS is questioning the inclusion of this property.  This hardly seems to fit the KOZ criteria. The location in the Frankford Arsenal of the politically connected Franklin Towne Charter, whose new application was endorsed by several local elected officials, including Councilmember Bobby Henon, raises serious questions. 

We reiterated in our September 19 letter:

Not only are property taxes abated for 10 years, but almost all city and state taxes. We have found little evidence that these tax breaks benefit the students and families of our public school system.  Data in recent news show that the city’s poverty rate remains stagnant. There are many reasons for this, but it is safe to say that the many tax abatements granted over the past twenty years are doing little if anything to change the lives of those living in poverty in the city. Few benefits have trickled down from purported job creators to Philadelphians in need.
PCCY Director Donna Cooper told the Notebook:

“What this suggests is a lot of retail politics without discussion of the consequences. Would Fishtown be harmed if these properties weren’t developed? I don’t think anyone in this city would think so. But would the schools be harmed with less resources than they could have otherwise? Everyone would think so…
…What we found is a set of properties that are being proposed to be given away scot-free, with no taxes of any sort paid to the city or state,” Cooper said. “These are places that in no way meet the criteria of being blighted. … For some ungodly reason, people think we need to stimulate more development in Fishtown. That’s crazy.”

Ms. Cooper correctly characterized the program as a “back-door tax increase”: “When we excuse all the taxes on these property owners, somebody’s going to have to pay the difference. That will be the rest of us.”

And that “rest of us” includes the parents and community members who make up the stakeholders of this district.

Again, we urge the Board to withstand the political pressure, remember who your constituents really are, and vote NO on Action Item BOE-4.